How to Connect During Crisis: Email Marketing and COVID-19

Mon May 18, 2020 - National Edition

The COVID-19 crisis has changed everything about everything – including marketing. Many brands are using email as a nimble, personal tool to reach out to, reassure and remind audiences they are here for them.

But while audiences have more time to open and read emails, they also have different needs. Here's how email marketing looks – and what's working – in this new era.

Why People Are Opening Emails More, But Clicking Less

Results data from various email service providers – as well as recent results from our own clients – show open rates are up. More people are at home and online – plus budget cuts for many marketers mean less crowded inboxes and less clutter. But click-to-open rates are down, as "buy now" messages get ignored by nervous consumers and boilerplate emails from brands about the situation don't give audiences much reason to click.

You don't have to send a COVID-19 email just because seemingly everyone else is. Spam complaints are high for these emails, and negative reactions may lead to unsubscribes. If you feel you must send a COVID-19 focused email, be careful what terms you use in the subject line. Terms like COVID-19, Coronavirus or Pandemic are increasingly being blocked by spam filters, as are terms like:

  • Urgent
  • Hurry
  • Critical
  • Serious
  • ·Alert
  • Rush

Additionally, people have crisis fatigue and are in a different buying mentality. So make sure you have something relevant, unique and helpful to say. This is an opportunity to demonstrate empathy, build relationships with audiences, increase preference and strengthen brand positions for the long-term even though there may not be short-term sales results. In other words, it's an excellent time to build Real Connections.

Three Ways to Connect During Crisis

The situation is very fluid, so the guidance will likely evolve over the coming weeks. But so far, here's where we're seeing success:

  • Acknowledge the situation and offer practical help or stress reduction. In particular, consumers want critical updates from companies such as when (and if) they are closing and how to remain in contact. A recent study showed a 41 percent increase in open rates in B2B and 34 percent in B2C for emails like this – especially with the right subject lines. Another study reported email is a preferred channel by 67 percent of consumers for receiving these kinds of communications, compared to 45 percent for social media.
  • "Free" is bigger than ever. When used in subject lines, it is producing open rate increases of 39 percent in B2C and 31 percent in B2B. If you've recently been laid off, are concerned about being laid off or are under orders at your business to reduce expenses, an offer of something free can be very appealing.
  • This is a great time for a sweepstakes or prize giveaway. Recipients who are out of work and/or have time on their hands are more likely to be interested in the chance to win something of value and more willing to take the time to complete the entry requirements. If sales are down, a few product giveaways can get a brand's message out and capture a list of interested prospects – who can be marketed to whenever their financial situations improve.

A new reality means new rules for Real Connections. And that's especially true in a medium like email. If you're going to drop into someone's inbox, make sure you have something of value to say.

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